Kentucky-born and based in Cincinnati, Ohio, singer-songwriter Nicholas Johnson’s story is not a typical one, including moving to Milan, Italy and then getting kicked out of the country. Bringing it all back home on his fourth release, the seven-track album spanning twenty-six minutes, Shady Pines Vol. 2 (Ninja Jam Records), Johnson follows-up 2017’s Shady Pines Vol. 1 to complete the vision he originally had for the two-part project.
Shady Pines Vol. 1 (Ninja Jam Records) was the first half of the collaboration that found Johnson teaming up with acclaimed producer and engineer Patrick Himes (Ryan Adams, Ethan Johns, Lilly Hiatt) with the goal in mind to craft a recording that matched the intensity of his live shows. The result is a fiery brand of roots and rock that manages to sound both achingly familiar and fiercely original.
Nicholas Johnson will be having his album release show on March 4th at Urban Artifact, in support of his new album, Shady Pines Vol. 2 that comes out March 3rd on Ninja Jam Records!
“I got kicked out of Italy in the early fall of 2016. Seriously. For context, I had an opportunity to move to Milan earlier in the year. Sold the car, the house, put most of my things in storage, packed up the dogs and moved into a tiny apartment in the center of the city. I loved it,” Johnson says of the experience. “However, there were huge errors with the filing of my visa - so on my birthday I was getting ready to fly to Munich for Oktoberfest and I got the call, ‘Happy Birthday, you can't go to Germany for Oktoberfest and you need to leave the country immediately while this is being resolved.’ I was told it could take anywhere from three weeks to three months.”
Continuing, he adds, “As I mentioned, the house and car were sold. I had to rent a car and crash at my friends - I split time between couches and spare rooms in Dayton and Louisville. I had these songs I wrote that were just hanging out that I played for friends and they really dug them. They were the ones who referred me to Patrick and his studio in Dayton - Reel Love Studios. Come to find out he had worked with Ethan Johns and was the engineer on one of my favorite albums, Ryan Adams’ classic Heartbreaker. Patrick had moved out of Nashville and started his own studio dedicated to recording and producing Ohio music. It was a match made in heaven. I loved working with him, but it was brief because by the time we got to work in the studio it was nearly time for me to go back to Italy. We knocked out five songs in a couple days [which would become 2017’s Shady Pines Vol. 1]. After that, I really wanted to come back and work with him again. Volume 2 was that opportunity.”
Building upon Vol. 1, Shady Pines Vol. 2 combines his Southern and Midwest roots into a sound that is best described as Southern roots meets Midwest rust-belt rock: Heartfelt, earnest, melodic, and true to the soil he was raised on. Paying homage to the likes of Tom Petty, Jeff Tweedy, and even Bruce Springsteen, Johnson creates a rock record that has as much grit as it does polish.
Unlike Volume 1, which was recorded quickly, Johnson and Himes took their time on Volume 2.
“The beginnings of Volume 2 started all the way back in 2018 - flying back from Italy to Dayton to work with Patrick. So we've had quite a bit of time to refine things and take our time crafting the sound and style.”
The result, as he says, is an album that “genre hops a bit but it's essentially Americana with an edge: peppered with rock and a little punk."
Propelled by the album’s first two singles - “New Vampire” and “Middle of Nowhere, Ohio” - “Middle of Nowhere” opens the album with an Tom Petty-esque rocker, while “New Vampire” closes out Volume 2 with a late-night, folk-pop sleeper rich in vocal harmonies, rustic charm, and a soothing rhythm section.
“These songs bookend the album and encapsulate the theme and tone of the album - but they achieve it in different ways musically,” Johnson says of the two singles.
With the album done and set for release March 3, 2023, Johnson is excited to get the record out to the public, tour in support of it (as a full band, solo, and as a duo), and hope those that hear it take from it some experiences that he put into it.
“This record has been my primary focus since 2018 so my main goal is for it to be heard, enjoyed, and respected by as many people as possible. Hopefully, this will be a lot of people's introduction to my music and like it enough to dig deeper into my catalog. And ultimately, I hope it's successful enough to propel me to my next project.”